Mastitis is Mastitis

So I turned up on a farm with a very high cell count “the farmer said I am being penalised by the dairy for having a high cell count, but I don’t have any mastitis “

Categorizing mastitis
Once it is identified, it is important to identify the severity of mastitis as this is crucial in determining what treatment to give.

Subclinical mastitis: while appearing unaffected by the illness, may experience a reduction in yield potential due to the high SCC, and certainly represents a possible source of infection for other cows, who can become subclinical sufferers themselves, or may go on to show clinical signs of the illness, due to differences in immune status between cows.

Any milk that has a somatic cell count of more than 1,000 000 cells per millilitre is not fit for human consumption.

Mild mastitis: Abnormality of the milk is the main sign with little evidence of change in the udder and no systemic signs such as dullness and loss of appetite.

Moderate mastitis: Changes in the udder are detectable as well as changes in the milk. These changes can occur slowly or rapidly. There may be small systemic changes such as reduction in feed intake.
Over a long period of time both of these types of mastitis can persist, leading to chronic inflammation and damage in the udder (chronic mastitis).

Severe mastitis: Marked changes in the udder and milk are combined with major systemic effects in the cow such as fever, loss of appetite, depression, shock, dehydration, and collapse. These cows need urgent veterinary attention.

Whether we like it or not all the above are mastitis which occur in every UK dairy herd to varying degrees. And while it is easy and often routine to supply cows showing clinical disease with antibiotics, is the pain of the disease ever taken in to consideration?
“Its only Sub clinical mastitis doesn’t mean there is no pain”.

Antibiotics are undoubtedly important in the fight against mastitis infection, but if you were to ask any human female having experienced mastitis they would likely describe the pain as excruciating,

Sub Clinical mastitis can present itself in a wide degree of severity of symptoms which can range from low to high cells. The degree of illness and the symptoms present will depend on many factors, such as the nutritional or immune status of the cow, which pathogen is responsible for the inflammation, and a range of environmental factors such as cleanliness, humidity and ambient temperature. Moderate to severe clinical cases can be very painful and unpleasant for the cow

So what are you aiming for?
The generally-quoted aims for mastitis control and milk quality on UK dairy farms are:
A mastitis frequency rate of no more than 30 cases per 100 cows per year.
A mastitis persistence rate of no more than 20% of the herd affected per year.
A mastitis re-occurrence rate of less than 10% of the total number of cases.
A herd-average Somatic Cell Count below 150,000 cells/ml.

Maintaining a low bulk tank somatic cell count has always been a good dairy management strategy. Low somatic cell counts are associated with improved milk quality, increased shelf life and cheese yield after the milk leaves the farm, increased milk production, and reduced veterinary and drug costs.

Bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC) is the most commonly used measure of udder health on most dairy farms.
There are many reasons that BTSCC is used. High BTSCC is a good indicator of udder health problems on the farm. BTSCC is also readily available.

So, how do you know if you have an udder health problem despite a low BTSCC? The only way to know is to keep good records. Records can be kept on paper.

With regards to somatic cell counts in dairy cattle, the lower they are, the healthier your cows are, which in turn, means that the environment they are in, is good.
The inflammation of the udder causes large numbers of white blood cells (leucocytes) and epithelial cells to be released into the milk. It is these cells that are collectively known as somatic or body cells.

However, there is also other form of mastitis, called Subclinical Mastitis, where there is inflammation to the udder, but it isn’t noticeable. Everything looks normal, but when the milk is tested you have a high somatic cell count. This type of mastitis is common in 60-80% of all cases, and far more common than Clinical Mastitis.

Mastitis is basically an environmental disease, because the germs that cause it are everywhere. There is no magical way of controlling it, but as I said, you can reduce it by making sure that bedding is regularly replaced, and water sources are clean. Keep your fly population down. Any dairy equipment used should be clean, and udders totally dry when milking begins.

Having said that, mastitis can also be caused by incomplete milking, or improper drying off when it is done too quickly.

Most mastitis is caused by germs entering the udder through the teat canal. Therefore the teats should be checked regularly for cracks, cupped teats, enlarged milk ducts, warts, cuts, scratches etc. that would allow the germ to enter.

Of course the milking machines themselves don’t do the cows any favours either for mastitis and somatic cell counts. Often the vacuum rates and fluctuations cause the teats to be irritated, which in turn encourage infection. Using the milking machine on a cow with mastitis, followed by a healthy cow during the same milking session, without any cleaning in between, will result in spreading the infection.

Mastitis occurs when the dairy cow has few defences against infection due to either injury, or the sanitary or even mechanical aspects of the milking machines used, how the udders are handled during milking, the type of housing provided and any stress that the animal may be under, can all contribute to mastitis, which, in turn will result in a high somatic cell count.

STOP! Looking at controlling the symptoms, you should be looking at the causes. Good management of your dairy cattle will always work in your favour of keeping the somatic cell count down.